Sciency Words is an ongoing series here on Sci-Fi Ideas celebrating the rich and colorful world of science and science-related vocabulary. For today’s special Alien August edition of Sciency Words, we turn our attention to the term:
Astrobiology: it’s not science fiction. It’s a young but important branch of science focused on the study of alien life. The word literally means “star-life-study” in Greek.
Given that we have yet to discover alien life, you might be wondering what do astrobiologists actually do? What exactly are they studying? Well, at the moment they primarily study life on Earth.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking, how is that different from regular biology? The difference is that when astrobiologists study terrestrial organisms, they’re trying to identify qualities that might be universal to all life, as opposed to qualities that may only be distinctive to Earthly life.
Based on what they learn about life here on Earth, astrobiologists are currently trying to answer two big questions:
- Where should we be looking for extraterrestrial life?
- How will we know once we’ve found it?
Obviously we can only guess about what alien life might be like, but thanks to the efforts of dedicated astrobiologists, we can now make educated guesses.
Over the next few weeks, as part of the Alien August festivities here on Sci-Fi Ideas, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the terminology used in the field of astrobiology. This is not meant to be a thorough course in astrobiology but merely an introduction to a few key concepts.
How you choose to use these concepts, either for your Alien August competition entry or to further your research for some other sci-fi project you may be working on, is entirely up to you.
Article by James Pailly. Check out James’ blog for more great science articles.